Protester files lawsuit against Richmond police after he was tear-gassed at Lee monument

Richmond
Demonstrators in Richmond being tear-gassed

Tear gas deployed on demonstrators in Richmond during 4th consecutive night of protests on June 1, 2020.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond man has filed a lawsuit against 10 Richmond Police Department officers for $50,000 after a crowd of peaceful protestors at the Robert E. Lee monument were tear-gassed on Monday.

Jonathan Arthur filed the suit in Richmond Circuit Court on June 4 and claims the officers violated protesters’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.

It is unacceptable that men and women, gathering peacefully to protest police misconduct, were assaulted in this way by police. We are glad that the City has publicly admitted that this conduct was out of line. But this lawsuit is about transparency and accountability. There is no longer public trust that the police will do what is right, and hold the right people accountable. Without democratically elected and transparent civilian review board with broad powers to investigate and discipline those who are responsible–including subpoena powers–civil lawsuits are the only means citizens have to investigate the true causes of this behavior and to allow a jury of the people to determine responsibility.

Andrew Bodoh, co-counsel on the suit

The lawsuit states that the assembly began at about 5:30 p.m and when the group eventually made it to the Lee statue, there were still no threats of violence and no one was trying to destroy or deface the monument or any other pieces of property.

At about 7:32 p.m., a little less than a half-hour before the imposed 8 p.m. curfew, the lawsuit alleges a new group of police, who had not been escorting the crowd, stormed the gathering. This was a skirmish line, which came to the assembly wearing body armor, masks and carrying AR-style assault weapons.

The defendants, only refereed to as Jane/John Does I-X in the lawsuit, are all members of the RPD’s skirmish line.

The skirmish line and Richmond police trapped the group in an “L” shaped ambush tactic, according to the lawsuit, which is used in military conflicts around the world. Protesters then began chanting “Hands-up, don’t shoot,” in reaction to the excessive show of force.

However, without any warning, the lawsuit said one of the people in the skirmish line shot and fired a tear gas canister into the assembly while many of the protesters were kneeling with their hands in the air.

After the gas was shot many people ran down Allen Street, which the lawsuit said was one of the only places left open to escape. Even as protesters were running away, the lawsuit alleged the defendants continued to fire tear gas into the fleeing crowd.

Later that night, RPD went on to tweet a “disinformation campaign,” the suit claimed, which said the department was forced to gas the assembly. The tweet was later redacted and even Mayor Levar Stoney has since said the actions violated the rights of those protesting.

The lawsuit says the officers were motivated by malice against the assembly and the desire to enact revenge based on the actions of a separate protest group that vandalized the department headquarters and other property on May 29.

Fatal Arrest Fallout

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